Back On The Bus: On Patience

“You heavens, give me that patience, patience I need!”-King Lear

Be a distance runner long enough and you’ll rack up experience fielding questions from non-runners on how or why you do it. If you choose to answer questions about marathon training, inevitably someone will respond, “I could never do it. I’d get bored.”

Perhaps we all think this at some point before we actually catch the distance running bug. Picturing a two or three hour run is a lot different than doing one. All I know is I don’t recall ever being bored while running. What I do recall is the concentration it can require in the final half hour-the same brand of concentration you need many times over when racing a long race. Doubts and thoughts of quitting have to be routinely swatted away

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like flies. Or buzzards.

And it becomes a fierce mental game if you’re trying to hang on to a hard pace that will deliver you to the finish line in PR fashion. If you have four miles to go the last thing you’ll likely think is “Just four miles to go!” No, it’s more about zooming in on a right turn on the horizon-maybe just a few hundred yards away-and compacting the beginning and end of your life in this universe to simply getting from here to there without letting the pace slip, blocking out everything else until your round the corner. Then you pick the next mile marker or tree or whatever and do it all over again and again, like a climber scaling a wall grip by perilous grip.

So the concept of patience is somewhat inverted for a runner. My theory is that-especially when following a long-term training program-you have to marshal up all of your patience into a line of thinking that says what you ultimately are capable of on NYC Marathon day 15 weeks from now, for example, is critically dependent on how well you perform the workout assigned to you today. In other words, if your coach writes up a tough workout for you on Wednesday of July, with many more such days standing between you and November 1, you have to withdraw a certain princely sum from your patience account and spend it. The golden rule says that nothing good in distance running ever happens overnight, only over a period of time. (Bad is another thing. Injuries can seem to strike out of nowhere.)

So because you use up your patience on all of these daily workout goals, a runner might have less to spend elsewhere. I remember a Runner’s World column written many years ago by Dr. George Sheehan. In it he described how badly he craved a second cup of coffee and went into a donut shop to get one. In the donut shop was a considerable line of people, and after standing there for two minutes with little progress he abandoned the quest in a fit of frustration and bolted from the store.  The story made perfect sense to me. I see those lines of cars at fast food “drive thrus” and think, how the hell do they do that? And I imagine these are the same folks who would try and get their brains around the idea of a 20-mile run and say, “I’d get bored.”

Boredom has little to do with anything while you’re running. Patience has a lot to do with it. Especially if you’re trying to regain some level of fitness long lost to memories and fading running logs. I think it was Dr. Jack Daniels who offered the advice to runners making a comeback to beware expecting too much too quick. I’m in week two of the 16 week NYC program written for me by Terrence Mahon and Daniel’s advice is something I keep front and center. On Monday was an interval workout, 8 times 600 meters with one-minute rests. My goal pace for these was 7-minutes per mile, which back in my golden years would have been my easy run pace. Such thoughts I quickly sweep from my mind.

Indeed, the fun of the program now is the program itself-it’s the satisfaction that comes from imbedding oneself into the quiet, daily grind of a basic discipline. I forgot how much I enjoyed it. Perhaps one of the enduring values of distance running is that instructs you in the virtues of diligence and patience.  At any rate, there’s certainly nothing boring about it.

Follow former 2:38 marathoner, and current editor-in-chief of Inside Triahlon magazine, TJ Murphy as he trains for his return to the marathon at the 2009 ING New York City Marathon. TJ will be getting “back on the bus” of marathon training with the guidance of elite coach Terrence Mahon under the Asics Editor’s Run NYC Marathon program. Learn more about Terrence, his athletes and his programs at www.runmammoth.com.

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